India Service Projects
Aimed at improving life in Varanasi, India, Sonoma Ashram Foundation provides and promotes modes for safe housing, educational opportunity, ecological sustainability and economic empowerment for young people and women. The Foundation’s India initiatives are implemented through the work of its local NGO, Aghor Foundation. These initiatives serve as replicable models for and in the community.
The K-5 Anjali School serves over 100 disadvantaged children, who would not otherwise be able to afford or access an education in the Samne Ghat and Nagwa neighborhoods of Varanasi. The school is tuition-free; the lessons are based on standard curriculum but also help students develop the tools of life. The approach includes yoga, meditation, visualization and understanding of the richness of Indian culture, as well as cultivating a deep appreciation of other cultures. Students are also give periodic medical check-ups in an ongoing effort to ensure a safe and healthy learning environment. Anjali School also employs 7 teachers and staff.
The Foundation is in the planning phase of building new, larger and better equipped classroom facilities. The new structure will also address our ongoing concern for the children’s safety away from the river flood zone.
For more information, please visit https://anjalischool.org
In addition to serving as Babaji’s home and place to receive visitors when in India, Bal Ashram is a platform for cultural, religious, and recreational support to all of the people involved in the Foundations’ initiatives. Foreign visitors are welcomed and received as part of Bal Ashram’s extended family.The temple, guest accommodations, kitchen, yoga studio, gardens and grounds come to life as a beautiful, clean retreat center, perfect for the spiritual practices of yoga, meditation, Ayurveda and seva. Directly across the Ganges and a 10-minute boat ride over is Amrit Sagar Eco Park. Bal Ashram also serves as headquarters for the Aghor Foundation offices, overseeing and administering social service programs.
Amrit Sagar (“Ocean of Nectar”) is a working model of the best environmental practices and a teaching center demonstrating traditional and innovative sustainable practices readily available and practical to implement. The ten-acre facility is situated on the undeveloped eastern bank of the Ganges River, a short boat ride from Varanasi’s city center. At Amrit Sagar, organically farmed vegetables, fruit and dairy provide food for the boys’ and girls’ hostels in Varansi. The Center is innovating with clean energy, safe water and agricultural production, serving as a working model for sustainability best practices. Amrit Sagar is model for economic development. It provides jobs for local villagers and serves as a model for energy and food resource management.
Located on the Bal Ashram property, Project Shakti is inspiring and uplifting an ever-growing population of underprivileged women in Varanasi since its creation in 2009. Serving primarily uneducated, young women, the program provides training in a variety of skills such as sewing, tailoring and making traditional handicrafts. Classes are equipping women with the necessary skills to find suitable jobs, sell their commodities and launch their services in the local community - and thus earn their own livelihoods. Project Shakti has made several computer training loans, and in the near future, will offer loans for nursing and other vocational training programs. After securing a job and/or independent income, the women will return the investment so it can then be shared with be others.
Immediately adjacent to Bal Ashram property, Vision Varanasi Hospital began in 2007 by providing free, quality eye care to the underserved community, people who otherwise could not seek, receive or afford treatment. Most commonly addressed are refractive issues (glasses, lenses), cataracts, diabetic eye disease, and infections. Anyone with an eye problem can come to the Center to be seen and receive treatment. The Hospital also runs mobile clinics in the surrounding villages and remote areas. Dr. Ivor Wolf from the United Kingdom heads the hospital and clinics with the support of Aghor Foundation.
Our Ashram is located on the southern edge of the holy city of Varanasi in a peaceful setting that overlooks and has direct access to the Ganges River. It is the perfect place to immerse yourself in spiritual practice (sadhana) and selfless service (seva). Here one can experience tranquil living amongst the laughter of children and the open-hearted people who have dedicated their lives to selfless service. We have a daily yoga asana class and morning and evening group meditation gatherings. There are also opportunities for seva at our school, eye hospital, environmental center and women’s empowerment project.
We welcome yoga teachers from India and abroad to host group retreats with their students at our Ashram. For more information, please contact us at: [email protected].
Shanti Niketan was initially founded to provide a home for girls who were orphans or had absent, abusive, or otherwise uncaring parents. Over time, and in recognition of the haven that it has become, the Indian government authorities have also designated Shanti Niketan as a temporary shelter home for girls and young women while their cases are under review by police and child welfare authorities. Currently there are 28 girls living permanently at the hostel.
Shanti Niketan was founded and is operated by Asha Pandey, the director of the Little Stars School in Varanasi, a close member of our Ashram family in India. All of the girls are students at Little Stars.
Founded in 2018, Sri Sarveshwari Samooh Institute of Yoga Studies offers daily public classes, specialized workshops and arranged retreats in the many aspects of yogic science on-site at the Bal Ashram campus. The Institute was envisioned and is operated by two of Babaji’s students, who have studied yoga science at India’s renowned yoga programs - the Bihar School of Yoga in Bihar, the Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (VYASA), in Bangalore and Jain Vishva Bharati Institute in Rajasthan. The Institute is also accredited as a VYASA yoga teacher training site. Classes are available in Hindi and English.